Bayer AG is a German multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology company and one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Headquartered in Leverkusen, Bayer’s areas of business include pharmaceuticals; consumer healthcare products, agricultural chemicals, seeds and biotechnology products. The company is a component of the Euro Stoxx 50 stock market index.
The company was founded in 1863 in Barmen as a partnership between dye salesman Friedrich Bayer and dyer Friedrich Weskott. As was common in this era, the company was established as a dyestuffs producer.
The versatility of aniline chemistry led the company to expand their business into other areas, and in 1899 it launched the compound acetylsalicylic acid under the trademarked name Aspirin. In 1904 the company received a trademark for the “Bayer Cross” logo, which was subsequently stamped onto each aspirin tablet, creating an iconic product that is still sold by Bayer.
In 1925 the company merged with five other German companies to form IG Farben, creating the world’s largest chemical and pharmaceutical company.
Following World War II, the Allied Control Council seized IG Farben’s assets because of its role in the Nazi war effort and involvement in the Holocaust including using slave labour from concentration camps and humans for dangerous medical testing, and production of Zyklon B, a chemical used in gas chambers.
In 1951 IG Farben was split into its constituent companies, and Bayer was reincorporated as Farbenfabriken Bayer AG. Bayer played a key role in the Wirtschaftswunder in post-war West Germany, quickly regaining its position as one of the world’s largest chemical and pharmaceutical corporations.
Overview of Bayer Healthcare
In 1953, the company brought the first neuroleptic (chlorpromazine) onto the German market. In the 1960s, They introduced a pregnancy test, Primodos, that consisted of two pills that contained norethisterone (as acetate) and ethinylestradiol. It detected pregnancy by inducing menstruation in women who were not pregnant; the presence or absence of menstrual bleeding was then used to determine whether the user was pregnant. The test became the subject of controversy when it was blamed for birth defects, and it was withdrawn from the market in the mid-1970s. Litigation in the 1980s ended inconclusively. A review of the matter by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in 2014 assessed the studies performed to date and found the evidence for adverse effects to be inconclusive.
They’ve has owned Alka-Seltzer since 1978.
In 1978, the company purchased Miles Laboratories and its subsidiaries Miles Canada and Cutter Laboratories, acquiring along with them a variety of product lines including Alka-Seltzer, Flintstones vitamins and One-A-Day vitamins, and Cutter insect repellent.
Along with the purchase of Cutter, Bayer acquired Cutter’s Factor VIII business. Factor VIII, a clotting agent used to treat hemophilia, was produced, at the time, by processing donated blood. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, people with hemophilia were found to have higher rates of AIDS, and by 1983 the CDC had identified contaminated blood products as a source of infection.
According to the New York Times, this was “one of the worst drug-related medical disasters in history”. Companies, including Bayer, developed new ways to treat donated blood with heat to decontaminate it, and these new products were introduced early in 1984. In 1997, Bayer and the other three makers of such blood products agreed to pay $660 million to settle cases on behalf of more than 6,000 hemophiliacs infected in United States.
But in 2003, documents emerged showing that Cutter had continued to sell unheated blood products in markets outside the US until 1985, including in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and Argentina, to offload a product they were unable to sell in Europe and the US; they also continued manufacturing the unheated product for several months. Bayer said it did this because some countries were doubtful about the efficacy of the new product.
Bayer has been involved in other controversies regarding its drug products. In the late 1990s it introduced a statin drug, Baycol (cerivastatin), but after 52 deaths were attributed to it, Bayer discontinued it in 2001. The side effect was rhabdomyolysis, causing kidney failure, which occurred with a tenfold greater frequency in patients treated with Baycol in comparison to those prescribed alternate medications of the statin class. Trasylol (aprotinin), used to control bleeding during major surgery, was withdrawn from the market worldwide in 2007 when reports of increased mortality emerged; it was later re-introduced in Europe but not in the US.